This isn’t the best time for a visit, but come on in. Yes, that’s everything I own strewn across the bed and the floor. That’s the suitcase there, with its mouth gaping on the dining table. Make yourself comfortable; there is a chair somewhere underneath the clothes and books. You have caught me in the middle of packing up, never an easy time. You know how it is, right? That night before, nervously cracking your knuckles as you decide what to take along. What to leave behind.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not me. Sure, there is chaos in the room now. But there is method in the madness, I assure you. No, really. This list, for instance, pasted on the inside of my closet door, is the epitome of order. You would think it was put together a fortnight ago when I decided to leave here. But you’d be wrong. As the layers of frayed tape along its edges would tell you, it came with me when I moved to this one-room flat six months ago.
But it is older, much older than my time at this brief stop. Four rooms, two apartments, and three cities back, I started jotting it down while procrastinating at my umpteenth part-time job. (Dreary days spent stamping well-thumbed Mill’s and Boons at the local high school library.) By the time I became a receptionist at a fancy hotel (lots of makeup but a steady nine to five after a dozen shaky gigs), the list had fattened up on my wrung-out experiences. Sweat and cuss words had made it come alive. Inputs from – well-meaning and patronizing – friends, neighbors, strangers, passers-by fed it some more.
The additions, subtractions, caveats, and footnotes have made the list bulletproof. I like to stick it inside my closet so I can look at it every morning while I decide what to wear (Always a mess. Towel too tiny, hair making a puddle on the floor. Mess. This is why I now buy the same outfit in different colors. No decision, no hassle.). By now, I know every entry on that list. Still, I keep it up. Every now and then, I put a star next to an item on it, make a note. It is now just a string of messages reminding my future self that this, here – wherever – is not a permanent stop. Baggage won’t fly.
I need reminding because objects have a hold on me. Things call out to me everywhere I go. Once I see them, I usually bring them along. They needn’t be pretty things (although, typically, they are) – pebbles, colored glass, medicine bottles, eyeless dolls, scissors, shoelaces; I have always been lenient with my picks. Age hasn’t refined my preferences, only made them more ambitious. The list came about the morning after I brought home a stop sign and a brilliant orange door from a scrapyard near my house. (Don’t judge me; it was a new house; I had just moved in and wanted to check out the neighborhood. Decorate.)
Quickly I realized I needed restraining. Something mild which wouldn’t make me a rebel, but like a patient parent gently guide me away from stuff by pointing out that they were ‘unwieldy.’ So I took a fresh sheet of paper and wrote,
1. Get nothing that won’t fit in the suitcase.
Easy. Tidy. So clear-cut that its clarity has had to be sullied time and again with annotations. First, when I replaced my 23” case with a 27 inch. Then when I chucked that for a 32”. But even those tiny shifts in dimension left me power drunk. In my head, the big new box was Hermione’s beaded handbag – infinite. It could contain everything I found and wanted (I thought) – gargoyles loosened from a crumbling building, grandfather clocks, headless porcelain statues, dismembered wings of crashed aeroplanes. New stuff started slipping into my life every day once the new suitcases arrived. One afternoon, when a tank of fishes slid in unhindered, I knew I needed backup rules.
2. Nothing alive.
I wrote. The other entries tumbled out below.
3. Nothing fragile.
(After I tried to acquire a set of blue ceramic tortoises. They weren’t alive, I had argued.)
4. No Curtains. No rugs.
(After shifting to a hot, windowless room from a cool room with marble floors that pinched my feet in the cold.)
5. Make that no decorations at all.
None of those jangling bells, trinkets, sashes, throws with mirrors and fringes, sparkly cloth dolls on beaded strings of twinkly lights. (You know how they all get dusty and wound up after the festivities and are impossible to detangle when you try to use them again). They are a pain to dispose of when moving out. This brings me to,
6. Nothing that will need to be disposed of before moving. (Note – Especially if the disposal is likely to be difficult).
(Learned this lesson after trying to get rid of a mattress no one wanted. I had to build a fire on the terrace. No, really! What a scene it had been.)
7. No fancy kitchen stuff. (Note – Yes, you have enough plates and pans.)
8. No furniture. (Note – Not even an itsy bitsy drawer.)
9. Nothing that you’d run to save if the house is on fire.
10. So no sentimental junk. (Note – Listen to me, trash the scraps of cloth, paper, letters, and cards, they will take up space, bait the rats and make your life miserable on all counts.)
Despite all the work, it is hard to keep track of what you bring in and throw out of your life. I like to do my inventory with my eyes closed during my commute hours. (What do you do? Listen to music?) Something so relaxing about sitting amidst a busload of sweaty people shoving and pushing, trying to think of every object in your home. I shut everything out and imagine walking through my… 1 ½ rooms, picking up everything I see – that pen there, this glass, bedsheet. Then I lay them all down next to each other (like in those flat lay photographs on Instagram), open my suitcase, and pack everything in, thinking through what could fit where.
And now here I am, recalling all my plans. Soon the flat will be empty. Scraped of everything. Then I will be somewhere new, doing something new and soon I won’t remember what this room looks like in the morning… Sure everything will fit! Did you not hear what I said about the list?
Ok, I have to go back to packing now. Before you leave, could you take the list off? Be careful; fold it along its seams. I will just get its Ziploc bag. Of course, the list has its own bag, and yes, it is labeled. Wouldn’t you keep it safe?
Author: Parni Ray
[Writer, Royal College of Art, London, English Literature]
Illustration/Image/Graphics: TDLM Design Team